Tag: privacy

 I Speak For The Trees

[continued from Part 1]

After meeting with the contractor that Ameren dispatched to walk my property line and mark trees, he invited me to walk the line with him. I was glad I did. Not only did this give me an opportunity to recalibrate his understanding of easements, but it gave him a chance to come clean and admit that he had already marked a half dozen of my trees with orange spray paint — designating them for removal! These trees were nowhere near the easement, but he said that they look for trees that will become a problem in the next few years and remove them as a preventative measure. He was very reasonable, and agreed to cover up the paint so that Nelson Tree Service would not touch them. (If it were only that easy!)

In my second letter to Ray Wiesehan, I recounted all of this and included photographs of the trees that had been painted. I concluded by telling him:

I very much appreciate your time and attention in coordinating with me prior to the trimming activity. However, it will have all been a waste of time if this information is not communicated to the Nelson Tree Service crew who actually performs the work. I have erected four Private Property signs along my property line to aid the crew in determining where they are allowed to cut. I have done everything I can reasonably do to protect my property. Now it is my expectation that you will do the same.

It quickly became apparent that all of my work had been for naught. Despite my due diligence, there had been no coordination whatsoever on Ameren’s part. The showdown I had hoped to avoid occurred May 5, when Nelson Tree Service showed up with their Super-Axe-Hackers, ready to fell my beloved Truffula Trees. I explained the situation to their supervisor, Randy Jennings, and he was also a very reasonable gentleman, but his complete lack of concern for where his crew was cutting left me quite dismayed. I asked him if anyone had talked to him with regard to my property, or if he even had a map of the property lines. The answer, of course, was no, and obviously, without a map, easements have no meaning.

The irony is that Ameren’s own web site says, “Ameren may have to remove trees that we deem a high risk to electrical service … A contractor from Ameren will notify the homeowner regarding the need for removal.” This is nonsense. It is painfully clear that even if a homeowner goes out of her way to demand this kind of interaction, it probably won’t happen. No, the only way to protect your trees from Ameren’s hired vandals is to camp out in your yard and be ready to speak on their behalf.

 I Am The Lorax

I am not a fan of Ameren. Ever since I spent seven days without electricity in the throes of a St. Louis summer, there is very little that company can do to find favor with me. I’m sure I’m not alone. That incident in July 2006, where a half million residents lost power for days following some severe storms, actually gave Ameren enough of a black eye that they started to at least pretend that they cared about their customers. In response to the public outcry, Ameren launched an initiative to make their service more reliable. What they actually launched was a War on Trees.

I’ve always been a fan of trees. Spending your entire childhood right next to the woods surrounding a creek will do that to you. The value of a tree is difficult to quantify when you consider all of its benefits. Beyond the sheer beauty, there are the obvious environmental benefits, not to mention the financial benefits of a shade tree that makes your air conditioner more efficient. In our current house, I’ve discovered that the abatement of noise and visual nuisances is one of a tree’s most valuable functions. I’ve also discovered that unless you are willing to speak in defense of your trees, you are likely to lose them to people who do not care.

So let’s ignore for the moment that Ameren is a monopoly that acts as an agent of the government (which by itself is plenty of reason to despise them), and focus on just the impenetrable bureaucracy of a public utility. In March I received a notice in the mail from Ameren that they were once again beginning their quadrennial assault on our arboreal assets. In response, I fired off a letter to Ray Weisehan, “Onceler” of Vegetation Management, asking that he direct his chainsaw mercenaries (Nelson Tree Service) to carefully consult their maps before setting foot on my property so that they would know which trees were in the Ameren easement, and which trees to leave alone.

To my surprise, Ameren actually responded by dispatching a Jared Rielson from the Utilimap Corporation to walk my property line and mark the trees that should be targeted. One might expect that a contractor from a company called Utilimap would have consulted an actual map before performing his duties. One would be wrong. It also came as a surprise when I told him that Ameren’s easement extended a mere five feet on either side of their electrical lines, and not the ten feet that he had been led to believe. But the last surprise was on me when we finally walked the property together…

[continued in Part 2]

 Take My Identity, Please

I just can’t win. Between my employer and the Veteran’s Administration, and their penchant for storing my personal data on easily-stolen laptop computers, I might as well just post my name, birthday, and Social Security number right here on my web site and save all those thieves the trouble.

And people wonder why I am so fanatical about privacy issues. Concern over privacy 40 years ago, or even just a decade ago, might have seemed out of place. But today? If you don’t think privacy is important, amid all of the stories of identity theft, you clearly aren’t paying attention. Pardon me if I believe a little paranoia is warranted at this point.

A few years ago, after the release of the movie Catch Me If You Can, I was fortunate enough to hear Frank Abagnale speak at the University of Missouri. Abagnale was the original identity thief, in the days before there were computers or high-speed Internet connections, and after serving prison time, he became a security consultant. During the Q&A period following his speech, he was asked what the average person can do to prevent identity theft. His first suggestion: buy a shredder.

Sage advice, to be sure, however, if you can’t even get your employer or your government to recognize the value of the electronic data that they are responsible for protecting, preventing someone from sifting through your garbage is the least of your worries.

Solving this problem is not easy. Since it’s really just a symptom of a bigger problem that only a Bloody Revolution™ will fix. Despite FDR’s promises that our Social Security numbers would never be used as a form of general identification, function creep over the last 70 years has made his promise a joke. Even individuals who wish to fully exercise their right to privacy, can never take full responsibility for protecting their own personal information, as long as they are being compelled to provide these data to a government with no vested interest in keeping them secure.